Human rights lawyers call out lack of action to address homelessness in Australia
State, Territory and Federal governments must make urgent changes to end homelessness. Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has described current levels of homelessness as a significant human rights failure which should be at the forefront of the minds of all parliamentarians during Homelessness Week.
In keeping with this year’s theme of “Ending Homelessness Together”, ALHR is calling on State, Territory and Federal governments to take a much more active role in ensuring all Australians have access to suitable and stable accommodation.
According to Homelessness Australia, there are more than 116,000 homeless people in Australia. On any given night, 1 in 200 people are homeless. These figures include children, young people, the elderly, people with disabilities and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
ALHR’s ACT Convenor, Charlie Faulder says, “The most recent census showed a 14% jump in homelessness in Australia, yet this year’s Federal budget contained no plan to address homelessness and the Turnbull Government has consistently ignored calls for even a modest increase in Newstart and Youth Allowance – which do not even come close to covering the costs of the basic essentials for living.”
“We have to remember that homelessness is not a lifestyle choice. Loss of a job, illness, separation, unaffordable rents and family violence can all lead to homelessness.”
“Homelessness is more than just a housing issue – it impacts on a person’s ability to enjoy the basic human rights and freedoms that many of us take for granted. Australia is a signatory to the UN Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and all levels of government are therefore legally obliged to take appropriate steps to ensure the right of every Australian to an adequate standard of living, including to housing.
“Human rights are for everyone and it is in the interests of the Australian community as a whole to ensure that the rights of people who are homeless are respected and protected.”
ALHR is calling on governments to work together to deliver:
- An increase in public and affordable housing stock;
- Increased funding for emergency and homelessness accommodation, particularly for people escaping family violence and those experiencing mental health issues;
- Amendments to residential tenancy legislation to remove no cause evictions and to cap rent increases for low income earners;
- The provision of financial assistance to cover rent payments in times of crisis;
- An urgent increase to the minimum payments for Newstart Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy; and
- Legislation to enshrine the right to adequate housing in domestic law.
Mr Falder says, “These are not difficult steps to take. Many people are only one life event away from homelessness and Australia has a responsibility to ensure the most vulnerable members of the community are adequately protected. Australia lags behind a number of other developed nations in its approach to ensuring people who do not own their own home have access to safe and secure housing. ALHR urges all State, Territory and Federal governments to prioritise the issue and commit to making the changes necessary to end homelessness.
ALHR President Kerry Weste emphasised the role a federal Human Rights Act could play in protecting the right to housing in Australia, “Australia holds the unenviable position of being the only western liberal democracy without a Bill of Rights or Human Rights Act. Australia has signed up to be bound by the seven-core international human rights conventions and has been elected to the UN Human Rights Council, yet Australians are bereft of the human rights protections enjoyed by citizens in comparable countries across the Western world.
For more information about Homelessness Week 2018, visit the Homelessness Australia website (www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au).
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